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by Women Arise Correspondent Jana Melpolder
Back in 2020, Harper Hill Global’s fearless leader Reverend Neelley Hicks reconnected on LinkedIn with a man she met while speaking at the United Nations, Mr. Robert St. Thomas, who supports the World Hypertension Action Group.

In early 2021, Harper Hill Global joined with the World Hypertension Action Group, Colleagues in Care, and the North Katanga United Methodist Church to make an impact on the lives of pregnant women and their unborn children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This international team began a public relations campaign to increase communications and healthcare knowledge about how risky high blood pressure can be. Today, the World Hypertension Action Group focuses on ending high blood pressure and supports women by providing greater access to medical information to patients in cooperation with local clinics, which provide medical care to pregnant women.

One doctor, several nurses, and local community healthcare workers in the region have been serving women at the Shungu Clinic. Oftentimes witchcraft has been believed to be the source of healthcare troubles, and the healthcare workers like Rev. Dr. Betty Musau are working to bring scientific knowledge to pregnant women so they can take better control of their health. She shares that, “we are dispelling myths that women are dying from witchcraft in childbirth. It’s actually blood pressure, and women need to have their blood pressure monitored while they are pregnant. People believe it’s witchcraft when it’s not; it’s an old belief.”

Through increased educational workshops supported by Harper Hill Global’s virtual classroom technologies, women have learned what it’s like to have their blood pressure tested, and how medicine can be used to treat high blood pressure during pregnancy. Now more women in the North Katanga region know that strokes and eclampsia can be brought on by high blood pressure. And it’s not witchcraft causing medical concerns but could in fact be high blood pressure. Dr. Musau adds, “even children are alerted when there is any case of high blood pressure from their mothers.”

The international team collaborated to develop content rooted in storytelling and teaching through a regionally accessible approach. “This is an important initiative bringing critical information on hypertension to pregnant women. Intended for the DR Congo, it is noteworthy that women in so many African countries are now using this animation. Women are always at the forefront of informing themselves and others with critical information on health,” said Firdaus Kharas of Chocolate Moose Media, creator of the animated video, “A Better Life: Safe Pregnancy.” The short film showcases the dangers of high blood pressure for pregnant women and how it can be prevented. Now available in five languages (Hausa, Swahili, English, French, and Portuguese), Harper Hill Global has spread the hypertension initiative through a committed, faith-based network, strategic use of WhatsApp, and media grants for radio and television buys.

In the North Katanga region, this effort has reached an audience of at least 250,000 on television and radio. Through WhatsApp, the campaign has reached women leaders in 13 African countries, who are committed to spreading the message and saving lives.

As Mr. St. Thomas shares, “using a multimedia approach consisting of coloring books, radio and TV messaging, and the Women Arise Collective teaching village to village, we are spreading lifesaving information on the risks of high blood pressures to pregnant women and their families. We want the women of East Africa to have the information they need to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from high blood pressure so that they may all lead better lives.” Additionally, Reverend Neelley Hicks would like Harper Hill Global to do a course on blood pressure through TechChange in the future.

The work to increase knowledge and wisdom goes both ways, and Mr. St. Thomas is learning from this work in North Katanga how American healthcare practices can be better. He shares that, “though many parts of America have great healthcare facilities and education, many Americans still suffer from hypertension because the information has not been adapted to their specific cultures or situations. So, often we rely on a “trickle down” approach which assumes people using common, available hypertension information will change their lifestyles to reduce their risk in very different situations — from urban to rural and remote regions of the country. Our experiences thus far in Eastern Africa have shown us that a “bubble up” approach is better — where the local people are personally involved to adapt accurate health education information to create their own communications programs which make the most sense to their own communities.”

May God bless all healthcare workers — in both North Katanga and the USA — in their lifesaving work.